It took four days of recuperation before Sven felt energetic enough to rejoin the daily Sandfire meetings. Kah checked in regularly via intercom, at which times Gene Trask would give her a status report on the Jensens, but otherwise the Seeder and his wife were left to recover in privacy. Interestingly enough, the loss of Nina/Tina had inspired a new level of harmony; Arbogasts, Boulders, and Jensens were now truly forged into a single entity, the Three Families Alliance. But the discovery that Kate had been targeted for murder counted as the deepest possible form of betrayal…and it takes time to recover from betrayal.
Ailing Gene Trask, 88 years old, rose to the occasion by taking care of himself for the entire four days without once dropping a skillet or even a roll of toilet paper. His love for Sven and Kate ran deep and strong enough to reenergize him in their time of need. They both noted and appreciated this, but mostly they were into their own worlds.
Kate, as predicted, went through insomnia and guilt, hardcore. She finally confessed to her Master that every time he’d been with the never-again-to-be-named Skank, she (Kate) had either cried herself to sleep or not slept at all. Jealousy. Fierce, green-eyed monster. Thoughts of killing the Skank had begun running through her mind from Day One, maybe because she was reading the Skank’s mind or maybe because she, Kate, had the idea first. If her man wanted to take the Box and go inside to check her, Kate’s, memory records on the causal plane, she wouldn’t object.
In fact, she wished he would. So she’d know if she had in fact caused this whole mess in the first place.
“No way, girl,” Sven told her. “No way you get to take responsibility for that chick’s low nature. No way I’m going to use the Box on you, either. Not for that. You surrendered to me, Little One, remember? From now on, it’s just the two of us. Let it go at that. If you spot some cute little thing we both want, we’ll maybe talk about it, but until or unless that happens, it’s just us.”
At frequent intervals, they’d watch a holo or two of standup comedy, anything from Edsella’s recent work to reformats of the legendary Eddie Murphy’s 150-year-old material. Then they’d both nap again, anywhere from thirty minutes to three hours at a time.
On the fifth morning, over kitchen coffee and dognuts (“dognuts” being Kate’s term for doughnuts), the Seeder reported: His dream recall was back on track.
“I was escaping from my first wife,” he told Gene and Kate, “Excpt when I woke up, it was obviously not her but a mockup by the Skank.” Soul, of course, had the capability to go beyond anything the Box could facilitate. It was more than possible for a given individual to run a dream of intrusion on another person despite the outer personality not having a clue.
“Anyway, I ducked out the back and went flying off at about treetop level, but the ex saw me and chased me. Turned out she was actually faster in the air; she was closing the gap rapidly. When she got to within about fifteen, twenty feet, she screamed at me, “YOU HAVEN’T EVEN LOOKED AT MY TITS!” I yelled back, “AT LEAST I KNOW THEY’RE BIGGER THAN YOUR BLACK HEART!” She finally caught up, tried to grab my crotch, and I hit her over the head with a piece of firewood.”
Gene Trask almost sprayed a mouthful of coffee all over the kitchen table. Kate hooted in delight.
“Hey,” The redhead put in, “A dream got me up, too. You were checking the oil in the car, and I said, “Don’t touch that oil! It’s GREEN!”
“Sounds like your old warning that I’d best not be dipping my stick in any green pooosy when I was out and about,” Sven grinned. Gene doubled over laughing.
“Yeah. I guess. Anyway, honey, if you’re up to it, I think we’ve done about enough recuperating. There’s work to do.”
Work to do, indeed. As it turned out, Jensen had a natural feel for hiring the right people, a talent quickly recognized by Jeremy Boulder. He’d reserved half a dozen employment applications for his partner to review prior to setting up interviews. Sven started with those.
The process, though, had become downright scary. It was now New Year’s Day, 2145, according to the big digital wall calendar. Months had passed since the Night of the Wannabe Ninjas. Those three men in black, two of them carrying Seeders, had changed Sandfire’s approach to security forever, mostly because all three had been recognized before their corpses were consigned to the EDAR unit for molecular redistribution.
All three were part of the group of security temps hired from the Sacramento agency.
Which explained why it had taken the intruders barely 45 seconds to unlock the side door’s great deadbolts: They’d simply done the old wax impression trick and then made their own keys. If those shiny new lock-turners had all worked perfectly, that fact might have escaped detection; thank goodness for shoddy workmanship. One, just one of three, had been cut half a whisker “off” and barely worked at all. No way a Boulder Quality Control check would have passed that one; therefore they were unauthorized duplicates.
At this point, thankfully, it seemed likely the remaining rent-a-cops from that agency were on the level. At least, no fingers had yet been pointed at Sandfire regarding the missing three. As far as anyone was admitting for public consumption, all ten men had roomed at the Cheapass Motel, the one at the foot of the hill which used the south end of a northbound burro as its logo. The missing men’s coworkers said everyone had turned in by 1:00 a.m., having had a busy day and all with more to come. They hadn’t partied much at all.
But when wakeup call came at 6:30 a.m., three men and one company van were missing entirely. Three men, one van, various bits of luggage, uniforms, weapons…the works.
It took the Tonopah PD a mere sixteen days to locate the missing van, which was reportedly pretty good for them. After all, the vehicle was parked a whole half-mile from the Police Department itself, deeply hidden (except for the front bumper, which stuck out) behind an abandoned building that had once served as the Rust & Trust Bank.
No one would officially say what the detectives found inside the road machine, ongoing investigation doncha know, but cops talk to cops who sometimes (as in ten times out of ten) let things drop here and there. Everyone in town who wasn’t perenially passed out drunk or too stoned to care (meaning almost a third of the populace) knew what the lawdogs were holding for evidence. True, Sandfire’s inner circle had to sort through all the rumors. They discounted the stories of Jupie ray guns, naked dead aliens showing signs of anal abuse, rabid coyotes, live rattlesnakes, vibrating dildoes, and quarts of Jovian Joy Juice. In the end, the most bland, uninteresting stories refused to change one iota–and were therefore probably true.
If so, the empty van had contained civilian clothing, spare uniforms, and a surprising amount of cash.
Blood money, that last.
But now, what to do about additional security personnel? They needed help desperately, and while another batch of temps hired from a Las Vegas agency did seem to be working out, it was impossible to be sure. Sandfire’s vulnerability to Seeder attack had been clearly illustrated. Any employee, temp or not, could be either a carrier or a Seeder not personally known to the former Garrett Di Marco. The only way to be absoulutely certain was to go inside, and that was far too dangerous to consider from this point forward except in cases of absolute emergency.
For example, what if that Inspector Chartres had arrived to look over the building with a Seeder–or a whole platoon of Seeders–lurking somewhere in his inner worlds? The Guild rat bastards could have been just hanging around, waiting for the Homer Simpson of all time to blunder through the hatch and into their trap.